This past weekend, I attended the annual conference of the Biographers International Organization (BIO, nice play on words), held in Richmond. A day of great sessions by experts in the craft. When I attended last year's conference in Washington, I had an idea but no proposal or publishing contract. Now, I am in the final sprint for a July 1 deadline.
A few great bits to consider:
- From T.J. Stiles, author of a recent biography on George Custer: In choosing a topic to write about, think about what you don't know about a period or person you think you know.
- From Annette Gordon-Reed, whose work uncovered the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings: Ask your character, What are you really thinking?
- From Marlene Trestman, who wrote her first biography, about lawyer Bessie Margolin: When you do not succeed at applying for a grant, ask to see the evaluators' comments. They will strengthen your next proposal.
- From Stacy Schiff, author of biographies of Benjamin Franklin and of Cleopatra, among others: Don't read previous biographies about your subject. Start with your own research and draw your own conclusions.
- From Bruce Tulgan, who tried to impart his marketing expertise to a group of biographers: You must systematically promote yourself and your book, rather than rely on the publishing house.
Back to my own manuscript...inspired, if humbled, by this very distinguished group.